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Have just concluded a fascinating assignment, technically speaking: the same 2-hour long presentation on tax administration issues, given by the same two speakers to successive groups of 50 participants, over three full days + two half-days, ie a total of THIRTEEN such instances, interpreted from a bi-active triple booth.

I had had previous repeat performances, but never these many and this close, and was thus fascinated and educated this time round, from one session to the next,by

  1. what we changed,
  2. why we did it
  3. how we did it
  4. and to what effect

so much so that I wondered why such an approach, ie let us learn from doing, pondering and experimenting in the framework of repeat performances, was not regularly used in training courses, from scratch or refresher, with the added benefit of expert critique.

Any thoughts?

asked 17 Apr '12, 07:48

msr's gravatar image


edited 03 May '12, 09:54

so what exactly is the question?

(17 Apr '12, 08:30) Vincent Buck

@msr Could you edit your post so that one can clearly read your question? I honestly don't understand what you'd like to know

(17 Apr '12, 08:59) Marta Piera ...

"why such an approach, ie let us learn from doing, pondering and experimenting in the framework of repeat performances, was not regularly used in training courses, from scratch or refresher, with the added benefit of expert critique."


"any thoughts?"

were to my mind clear questions.

Anyway,not everything in life or the profession is black and white, right or wrong... a candid discussion of such matters may well elicit incremental contributions, more relevantly so than hammering them into pointed questions for rotund answers :-).

(17 Apr '12, 09:24) msr

Here are just three (associative) thoughts triggered by your question (and thanks for keeping it so open since I think there is a long tail of unchartered research territory behind it):

  1. Repetition was very much part of our training at Germersheim: We had a language lab with recorded simultaneous classes. In lieu of practicing on lots of different texts, personally I found it more rewarding to go over the same text again and again until I was satisfied with the result. => I think the benefits for short term memory (cache) and décalage of repetition in SI training can be huge (it felt like a gym).
  2. In terms of "real life" interpreting I only came across this kind of intense repetition in highly technical training sessions: For instance 2 week training by a (challenging) engineer in the US (challenging in the sense that -whilst he was a brilliant engineer - he was a shy speaker covering a complex topic with a lisp). However, after a few sessions (where he always gave the same presentation) we could begin to anticipate what he was about to say - and that is when we were really beginning to enjoy our work tremendously. Also, it was fascinating to see how different groups responded to one and the same presentation => repetition seemed to help in providing added value.
  3. Final example where repetition played a role: Technical training sessions, webcast for mechanical engineers, two year project. First, there were three rehearsals on various days, then there was the first live webcast in the morning, another rehearsal/debriefing and a second live webcast in the afternoon. => It was strange to see that usually the 1st live webcast was chosen for the subsequent intranet download. => Here, repetition seemed to be counterproductive (lack of adrenaline?)
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answered 17 Apr '12, 09:31

Tanja's gravatar image


edited 17 Apr '12, 09:38

Thank you very much, Tanja :-).

Let me quote from your #2 "repetition seemed to help in providing added value": you've encapsulated "my point" to a "t" :-) ... it was indeed the addition of value that we found fascinating, as in just the right amount of localisation in examples, the right timing in jokes, the right register change for emphasis, etc :-).

Your #3 makes senses to me, insofar as adrelanine may indeed play a major role in the first of two, less so in a series of 13 within 5 days, provided the interpreters cottoned on to the unique, "lab" like opportunity this represented, ie "novelty" adrenaline was replaced by "let's see just how much can we perfect this" ;-) adrenaline.

(18 Apr '12, 11:43) msr

Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes. I think that a frequently underestimated part of becoming a good conference interpreter is becoming desensitized to the conference environment itself, which allows you to focus on the actual work and hence do a better job.

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answered 17 Apr '12, 11:22

Jonathan's gravatar image


Thank you very much, Jonathan :-).

Interesting point, the one you make, I suppose there's some truth in it... but don't you think it could easily be misconstrued, not to say misused, by the "commoditizers" ;-), ie why bother with our requests for context info, why bother flying us to the conference, if we then proceed to "ignore" goings on and deal with discourse alone, somewhat like translators dealing with text "alone"?

Of course, you do say "desensitize", not ignore, but still... :-)

(18 Apr '12, 12:07) msr

I see what you're saying Manuel, but I think it actually helps our case. A big part of why we request documents and context is so that we will not being surprised by every single new piece of sensory information and thus will be able to do a better job. If I don't have a list of speakers with the name of their positions in English, I'll get the point across, but my interpretation of an introduction round will be more clumsy. If I know who the people are, and I've got a list of their titles in English, then I exert much less mental effort trying to translate their titles on the fly and decipher their names and instead focus on saying them with a pleasant delivery. The result, therefore, is much more satisfactory.

(18 Apr '12, 13:02) Jonathan

It's an interesting point you've raised. Here's my take on it:

1) Training: We sometimes use repetition in training at the Master's course where I teach. For instance, we might have students take notes and do consec from a speech, and then go into the booth and do the same speech in simultaneous immediately afterwards. Or we will take speeches done in consec class the previous week and use them again for simultaneous class. Or even have them do two simultaneous versions of the same speech back-to-back.

The idea of using repetition in the training context is to create a situation where students are familiar with the material and so can focus more on the technique and less on absorbing information. Of course, since the speeches are delivered live each time, you never get 100% identical versions, as you would if you were working with recordings in training.

2) Professional practice: I have to deal with repetition in real life as well. I have one client who often holds two versions of the same meeting spaced a few months apart. The agenda is identical, as are the presentations and the people at the top table (not to mention the interpreters). Only the national delegates are different. In each case, I found that having worked at what was basically the same meeting a few months previously helped me the second time around.

Here's another one: In successive jobs with one client, I have heard the same keynote-type presentation given by the same individual at the same type of meeting about 8 or 10 times over the past few years. The only difference is that each time, it's to a different audience. Do I do a better job each time around? I hope I do! There's a bit about chainsaws in the middle, and the first time around, it caught me off guard ("did he really say chainsaws?"), but these days, I can tell when the chainsaw bit is coming... I like the speech so much, I ask to do it, even when it's not officially my turn ;).

You'll find a similar situation happens with any client who hires the same interpreters for regular meetings (annual conferences, quarterly shareholders meetings, even the European Parliament plenary weeks, whatever). The client gets a better service because the interpreters draw on their familiarity with the subject matter.

3) Now to research: Interestingly, some of the ground-breaking work done by Daniel Gile when he was developing his Effort Model showed that the same professional interpreters doing the same speech twice back-to-back would make roughly the same number of mistakes each time, only in different places (!). So maybe our gut feeling that repetition leads to improved performance is not entirely borne out by the evidence.

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answered 18 Apr '12, 10:45

Michelle's gravatar image


Thank you very much, Michelle :-).

I am of course aware of the type of repetition you mention in your #1 and have used it msyelf when I taught - I no longer teach these days. The novelty, in the situation I report, was the focus on production, as opposed to listening and the fact that we were working for a real, live audience - makes all the difference to professionals - which allowed us to gauge the effectiveness of our changes straightaway :-).

My point was not growing familiarity with subject-matter, speakers or context, as you say in your #2, and as Jonathan had also indicated - I was indeed able to gauge its effectiveness during my decade with the EP - but rather being able to improve on sucessive versions of what one did (from the same live presentation, you're absolutely right when you say live vs. recorded makes all the difference, including normal changes by speakers which keep us on our toes) enough times within a short enough period for one to both remember what one had done, "highlight" what could be bettered and compare it with what one did next... never forgetting the bard's advice "striving to better oft we mar what's well"! :-)

Finally, I am familiar with Daniel's seminal effort model, have frequently drawn thereon to explain stuff, but had always read the findings you mention to indicate that the average number of our mistakes is determined by our "quality", not familiarity with source.

(18 Apr '12, 12:01) msr

I remember that repetition was a large part of my training. Our instructors would have us do a speech in the booth in class, we would critique it there, and then we would take the recording of the original speech home with us and practice it at least 30 times over the next week, changing as much as possible with every rendition. We would vary grammatical constructions, vocabulary, anything we possibly could, trying as much as possible not to stick with anything from one rendition to the next. Of course, that would be the first thing we did in class the next week, before doing a new speech.

The exercise made it slightly more difficult to hear something new for the first time in the beginning, but later on it made us grow in flexibility, so that we felt that whatever was thrown at us, however we started our sentences, we were flexible enough to finish without backtracking, and could always find a way around difficult source sentence structures and locutions.

It sounds, from your experience, that the exercise would be even more interesting in a team, as you could collectively decide what would bring the most value to the new rendition. Fascinating!

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answered 23 Jun '14, 17:17

JuliaP's gravatar image


...I envy you your enlightened instructors, Julia, many thanks :-)

(23 Jun '14, 23:41) msr

Definitely, facing a situation by the first time carries a lot of stress. As interpreters we face a battle between time, nerves and words. Repeating an interpreting task several times provides opportunities to rethink our performance in a more relaxed condition.

As stress decreases, our attention improves and so we are able to freely focus on the speaker and his discourse. Such concentration leads us to changes and new considerations. Every time we repeat a session, we notice something that could be said in a clearer way or we introduce a new word or expression which clarifies the message. In time we learn to predict and associate previous responses to similar situations.

Moreover, If an external feedback is provided by a colleague it enhances our possibility for self-improvement. Repeating sessions is equal to stop repeating errors.

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answered 18 Jun '14, 22:01

Eguillent's gravatar image


Thank you very much, Eguillent :-)I'm delighted to read more answers to my question, more than two years down the line.

Prediction/anticipation was not at the forefront of my mind when I wrote it, because of course having heard it once we did not have much to anticipate thereafter :-) but I can see how that element could be stressed for pedagogical purposes, say by having the speaker use different "triggers" and following them up differently, checking to what an extent they were picked up by the interpreters for anticipation purposes... again many thanks.

(22 Jun '14, 17:02) msr

I think the answers above go to show that repetition is used systematically by quite a few teachers and that it can be used to highlight or work on different parts of the interpreting skill. I've been using and recommending repeat interpreting of the same speech (or a very similar version given by the same speaker from the same notes) for almost as long as I've been teaching. Initially I saw it as a way of focussing on delivery (as here in 2001) but as I say, now I think teachers and students can use it to work on a variety of interpreting subskills - eg. chunking and short-term memory, reformulation, highlighting how general knowledge (or lack of it) affects our reformulation, delivery, anticipation.

Repetition, in a very broad sense, is a miniature, focussed version of experience. So yes it certainly helps. I can recall two things experienced colleagues related to me when I was relatively new to the profession that I've never forgotten, and which are also partly answers to your question...

  1. Asked by a novice (not me) if experience helped him achieve an ever greater time-lag when interpreting one senior colleague replied, "No, but I anticipate much better"

  2. "When you've worked for 10 or so years you've heard it all before." (The implicit message being that it got easier and you got better at it as a result (and fyi with no hint of arrogance in the statement!)

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answered 22 Jun '14, 16:13

Andy's gravatar image


edited 22 Jun '14, 16:56

Thanks, Andy, loved the bit about better anticipation vs increased lag ;-).

As I had said above, prompted by an earlier reply, I was in this context particularly fascinated by the active/production side, much more than by the listening/"passive" one, but of course these are but different slices of the same baloney ;-)... and thank you for taking the trouble to answer this "old" question.

(22 Jun '14, 17:14) msr

My mother always repeated: "Repetition is the mother of knowledge - you must remember it". I am grateful to my mother.

Thanks to repetition in any educational training we develop our knowledge and skills - so we learn. I personally can said repeating again and again or writing again and again or read again and again until I was satisfied with the result. The benefits after this training will be huge. It is my opinion and is my way for learn languages. I do not know any other way which can give better results.

By use systematically repetition will affect positive in our interpreting skill. Looking into the past and remember when I’ve been using Dictaphone with repeater capability. I slept with earphones and listen to pronunciation of difficult words all night long. Because I studied two languages with different alphabets at the same time (English and Greek). It was really difficult, because none of these languages was not with the alphabet in my mother tongue (Bulgarian). I had weak moments and then I repeat that "I can" and "Do it." I never forget the words of my mother that I should repeat while I learn. I never set big goals, but thanks to the repetition and learning as a result of this repetition now I'm here and write my opinion in this discussion.

Finally I would like to say that I love languages and I think that whatever we do has to do with many love only then will have best results. So, does repetition make us better interpreters? I think that only repetition as act - no, but repetition with love - yes.

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answered 23 Jun '15, 15:21

Iliyana%20Georgieva%20Pinkney's gravatar image

Iliyana Geor...

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question asked: 17 Apr '12, 07:48

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